Jury service is one of the most important civic duties you can perform. The protection of rights and liberties in federal courts largely is achieved through the teamwork of judge and jury. You do not need any knowledge of the legal system to be a juror.
There are two types of juries serving distinct functions in the federal trial courts: trial juries (also known as petit juries), and grand juries.
Petit (Trial) Jury
A civil petit jury is typically made up of 6 to 12 persons. In a civil case, the role of the jury is to listen to the evidence presented at a trial, to decide whether the defendant injured the plaintiff or otherwise failed to fulfill a legal duty to the plaintiff, and to determine what the compensation or penalty should be. A criminal petit jury is usually made up of 12 members. Criminal juries decide whether the defendant committed the crime as charged. The sentence usually is set by a judge. Verdicts in both civil and criminal cases must be unanimous, although the parties in a civil case may agree to a non-unanimous verdict. A jury's deliberations are conducted in private, out of sight and hearing of the judge, litigants, witnesses, and others in the courtroom.
The purpose of this handbook is to acquaint trial jurors with the general nature and importance of their role as jurors. It explains some of the language and procedures used in court, and it offers some suggestions helpful to jurors in performing this important public service.
Nothing in this handbook is to be regarded by jurors as instructions of law to be applied by them in any case in which they serve. The judge will instruct the jury in each separate case as to the law of that case. For example, in each criminal case, the judge will tell the jury, among other things, that a defendant charged with a crime is presumed to be innocent and the burden of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is upon the Government. Jurors must follow only the instructions of law given to them by the trial judge in each particular case.
A grand jury, which normally consists of 16 to 23 members, has a more specialized function. The United States attorney, the prosecutor in federal criminal cases, presents evidence to the grand jury for them to determine whether there is "probable cause" to believe that an individual has committed a crime and should be put on trial. If the grand jury decides there is enough evidence, it will issue an indictment against the defendant. Grand jury proceedings are not open for public observation.
This Handbook will acquaint persons who have been selected to serve on a federal grand jury with the general nature and importance of their role as grand jurors. It explains some of the terms that grand jurors will encounter during their service and offers some suggestions helpful to them in performing this important public service. It is intended that this Handbook will, to a degree, repeat and provide a permanent record of much of the information presented in the grand jury orientation film, The People’s Panel, which in most districts is shown to grand jurors at the commencement of their service. Grand jurors are encouraged to refer to this Handbook periodically throughout their service to reacquaint themselves with their duties and responsibilities.
This Handbook is designed as an aid only to persons serving on a federal - not a state - grand jury. The federal grand jury is concerned only with federal crimes; it derives its authority from the Constitution of the United States, national laws, and the rules of the federal courts. There are also grand juries impaneled in many of the states, but those grand juries investigate only state crimes; they derive their authority from the constitutions, laws, and rules of court of the states where they are impaneled.
Selection of Jurors
Potential jurors are chosen from a jury pool generated by random selection of citizens' names from lists of registered voters, or combined lists of voters and people with drivers licenses, in the judicial district. The potential jurors complete questionnaires to help determine whether they are qualified to serve on a jury. After reviewing the questionnaires, the court randomly selects individuals to be summoned to appear for jury duty. These selection methods help ensure that jurors represent a cross section of the community, without regard to race, gender, national origin, age or political affiliation.
Being summoned for jury service does not guarantee that an individual actually will serve on a jury. When a jury is needed for a trial, the group of qualified jurors is taken to the courtroom where the trial will take place. The judge and the attorneys then ask the potential jurors questions to determine their suitability to serve on the jury, a process called voir dire. The purpose of voir dire is to exclude from the jury people who may not be able to decide the case fairly. Members of the panel who know any person involved in the case, who have information about the case, or who may have strong prejudices about the people or issues involved in the case, typically will be excused by the judge. The attorneys also may exclude a certain number of jurors without giving a reason.
If you have been summoned for jury service we hope you will find your term an interesting and satisfying experience. You will receive an orientation, two booklets of information for you to read and keep, and view a video entitled "Called to Serve" concerning your duties and responsibilities as a Petit Juror, or the "People's Panel" concerning your duties and responsibilities as a Grand Juror.
|Court Shorts: Jury Service
Why is jury service important? What is the role of the jury? Jury service is the most direct way of participating in our democracy. In this video, students question federal judges from across the country on the basics of jury service.